Do you love tomatoes? Cherry, big beef, roma, whatever – few things are as delectable as a mid-summer, vine-ripened, juicy tomato. If you want tomatoes in your garden this year (or even in a pot in your kitchen), here are some tips to keep them strong and healthy while you’re growing them under your indoor greenhouse lights.
Some plants, such as tomatoes, actually require container-upsizing as a critical part of their growth. When the tomato plant is too top-heavy for its small container, it’s time to move it up. After a 4” square container, it’s time to go to gallon-size.
Fill a gallon container with potting soil/mix.
Create a hole roughly 4” in diameter.
Pull out the tomato plant from its now-small pot, taking care not to break the stem. That would be sad.
Use your fingers to lightly break up the roots at the bottom of the root ball before setting your plant into its new home.
Place the tomato plant low into the gallon pot, so the root ball soil level is about an inch lower than the new soil level.
If any leaves, like the two original leaves (which look different than other leaves on a tomato plant) fall near or under the new soil line, go ahead and pull them off. They’ve served their purpose and are no longer needed; if they land under the soil, they’ll probably just wilt and potentially mold, so better to just remove them now.
Firm up the soil connection between the old and new soil.
Add more if needed, to make up for the lower root ball soil.
Each time you transplant a tomato, you bury the stalk down further in the next-bigger container. This strengthens the stalk and plant overall, so the more you transplant into increasing sizes of containers, the hardier your tomato plant will be.
Tip: One way to help tomato plants stay manageable and productive is to trim the suckers off while they are small. Suckers are tiny branch starts that come up between an established branch and the stalk.
When you see a sucker, simply pinch (or cut) it off right away. Keeping them on the plant takes energy away from growing and/or producing more fruit. You don’t want a million branches, you want a million delicious tomatoes!
Tip: If your newly transplanted tomato plant leans, you’ll want to support it until it “learns” to grow straight and true.
Stick a bamboo skewer into the soil near, but not damaging, the stalk.
Grab an extra-long plastic twist-tie and loop it loosely around the upper stalk and the bamboo skewer.
Tighten the twist tie. It might be tempting to twist the stalk right onto the bamboo skewer tightly so there’s no give or lean. But this will actually cut into the soft stalk and do perhaps permanent damage, so loose is best.
Give your tomato plant plenty of room to grow while just nudging it into a straight-up growth direction.
Anytime you transplant or do anything that might shock a plant, give it a hearty drink of water afterward to help ease the transition.
After the last frost of the season, plant your tomato plant(s) outside, in a garden plot, a square foot garden, or even a large pot. They do well to be trained up a trellis or cage of some sort; be sure to keep up on removing the suckers. With proper water and sunlight, your tomatoes will grow to be large, beautiful plants with delicious fruit by mid- to late summer. Enjoy!